Public Speaking: Social Terrorism

In: Pubic Speaking
public speaking

Most of us have heard about the research revealing how people worry more about public speaking than they do death. “I’d rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy,” was how Seinfeld put it.  I totally get it.

My name is Audrey Shanahan and I am a public speaking scaredy-cat. The problem, however, is that my job doesn’t allow me to pass the mic to the next person, make a nervous laugh and say something like, “Jesus no, that’s not for me. I’ll pass.” Id lose my job with that attitude. My role requires that I lead presentations in front of large audiences, which to me feels like regularly having to face my biggest fear in front of the people I work with every day . Easy peasy, right? Don’t be a shithead. It’s the mental equivalent of a physical challenge like running a marathon in heels.

But I do it. I somehow manage it. I’m not saying I’ve learned how to masterfully conceal my nerves. I’m sure there have been occasions where I’ve made the entire room feel awkward; when people have thought: “That poor bitch. I hope she’s nearly finished.” But you know what? I’m starting to not care anymore. I think that facing my fears, and looking like an eejit in the process, will eventually lead to me not caring how I come across to others. The need to not show fear is at the core of pubic speaking anxiety and, ironically, it’s the very thing that ensures we do show it.  By looking like a bumbling, fumbling ‘God Helpus,’ every time I do it, I become less invested in trying to project an image of cool sophistication. Because, let’s face it, that ship has long sailed.

I’m hard on myself in this area. I’ve already made it sound like I haven’t ever given a good presentation, and I have. I’ve experienced calm in these situations, despite myself, and I have transcended my nerves more than once or twice. But this transcendence isn’t guaranteed and there are days when, unfortunately I totally bomb and want to run screaming.

The physical manifestation of public speaking anxiety is the most uncomfortable physical sensation I’ve endured. And I’ve given birth. This is why it’s an especially dumb fear and why otherwise rational people fear it more than death.

Here’s The Anatomy of Public Speaking Fear:

The horses come galloping in. Imagine a herd of wild horses racing over rough ground in the wilderness. Imagine the sounds of their hooves breaking the ground. That’s what I hear. It’s step one – heart pumping. The cave woman in me starts swinging her club, ready to whack anything threatening. To her, fear is danger and danger needs wiping out. But because I can’t start randomly clubbing people in the room, I must suppress this untamed energy.

Desert Sand. The oral drought. The salivary glands stop working. Cotton mouth central.

cotton mouth

The science behind this is actually quite fascinating. Non essential functions shut down to preserve energy for the extra strength needed to fuel a super human surge in energy. Digestion temporarily shuts down too, which is why gut problems are often linked to long term stress. It would be a clever evolutionary response if these reactions were preserved for times of actual rather than perceived danger.

Stupidity. They say you should never try to reason with a toddler having a tantrum. Why? Because their brains are developing and they have little emotional self control. In a tantrum scenario, they have absolutely none. Their emotional brain has taken over and they simply don’t have the capacity to reason. You console and comfort a tantrumy toddler or you try to distract them.  Adults experience infantile coping responses in situations where they have diminished emotional control. Most of the time, adults find it relatively easy to switch emotional states. Life experience and a hefty level of emotional intelligence ensures this. However, in situations where the fear response is conditioned, the animal brain takes over and the thinking brain gets cut off from the blood supply.We’re essentially toddlers in this situation. People sometimes have difficulty operating presentation equipment when they’re nervous or performing simple mental calculations on the spot because they are literally suffering from diminished intelligence. This lack of intelligence is one of the more painful symptoms. Imagine not being able to work a mouse when there’s 60 eyeballs on you. I don’t have to.

But, as with all difficulties in life, there’s hope. There’s always hope. Anyone who reads this blog will know that, for me, it’s all about CBT. I think it’s like witchcraft. The best thing about it is that it’s about finding solutions; not mulling over and dissecting problems. For public speaking, I can’t recommend this woman highly enough.

Facing our fears is the hardest thing we have to do in life. It’s harder when people mock and judge and poke holes in our performance. But all of those things, if we just let them, make us stronger. Life unfolds in proportion to our courage. Being brave, even when we feel petrified, makes warriors out of us.

The below is my all-time favourite quote on courage. I hope it can do for you what it has done for me:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”





  • trisha

    February 21, 2016 at 7:55 pm

    Well, whatever you are doing works. I would have never picked up on this from you…..congrats on the blog and love the new branding…….



  • admin

    February 22, 2016 at 8:16 pm

    Thanks a mill Trisha


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